Page D2.1 . 11 April 2001                     
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    Downtown Drop-In Center

    by Alice Kimm, AIA

    Several blocks along San Julian Street in downtown Los Angeles are home to many of the city's homeless. One would expect a sense of hopelessness to pervade that stretch of road, but instead it is vibrant and lively.

    This is due to the presence of the Downtown Drop-In Center, a facility designed by Michael Lehrer, AIA of Lehrer Architects with Farooq Ameen, AIA of Farooq Ameen Associates and operated by Volunteers of America, an offshoot of the Salvation Army.

    The project, which was given an AIA National Honor Award earlier this year, is inspiring for many reasons. That it exists at all is testimony to the dedication of the developer, SRO Housing Corporation.

    Design on a Shoestring

    The building was built on a very tight budget — less than $70 per square foot ($750 per square meter) — but contains architectural elements usually reserved for private, more expensive buildings.

    In addition, the building takes risks: despite the neighborhood's reputation for being dangerous and a home to drug dealers, the facility is open to the street. There is no visible security save one small camera monitor pointed unobtrusively at the entrance to the project.

    There is a sense that the building trusts its users and welcomes them. In return, the homeless who wander in and out of the facility do not abuse it. There is mutual respect between the architecture and those who inhabit it.



    ArchWeek Photo

    San Julian Street in downtown Los Angeles is home to the Downtown Drop-In Center designed by Lehrer Architects with Farooq Ameen Associates.
    Photo: Michael B. Lehrer, AIA

    ArchWeek Photo

    A tower element, painted a vibrant grape-like color, greets visitors as they enter.
    Photo: Michael B. Lehrer, AIA


    Click on thumbnail images
    to view full-size pictures.

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